Shingles Pain – Some Flippy Ideas

Here is an idea about shingles pain relief. I did not think of this. Neuroscientists have been working with it for a while. In my thinking, I am focusing on PHN or post herpetic neuralgia, however. PHN is the pain that does not go away after the shingles rash has resolved. About 12% to 15% of patients get PHN after shingles. Over 1 million people, mostly over age 60 get PHN each year. For some the pain is severe, and sometimes lasts months or over a year.

Here is the idea. I recently read an article about itching after shingles by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker. His is a long article, but if I can put the gist of it together, he is reporting about changing views of perception and pain. In this newer view, perception is more a construction in the brain, than it is simple reception of impulses. Some research seems to show that about 80% of what we see and otherwise perceive is a mind map rather than straight impulses from the world.

A good example is the case of phantom pain in amputees missing limbs. Amputees experience complex phantom sensations from limbs that are not present. They can feel as if water is dripping down the missing limb, it is hot, cold, or in some odd position. Clearly the missing limb does not sense anything, and cutting the stump shorter has not relieved the sensations either. So the problem is not coming from damaged and frayed nerves at the end of the stump. It is coming from the brain itself.

Enter the mirror box. It has been found that using a mirror box with an amputee's functional arm and its reflection can "fool" the patient into thinking that he has both of his limbs again, and miraculously cause the phantom sensations to stop. The brain constructions that have been forming missing limb sensations get reset. In fact, some amputees report that the phantom limb shrinks back into the stump and stays there.

So how about using mirrors at right angles to each other to allow a person with PHN to view his body. Set up the mirror box so that the healthy, non painful side is duplicated in the mirror box so that it appears like a whole body. He would have to hold still for it to work. Shingles, conveniently, only occurs on one side of the body or the other. This might trick the brain into reconsidering its guessing game about reality, and stop the phantom or neuropathic pain.

Like I said, I did not originate this line of thinking, but applying it to PHN may be something new to look at. Shingles pain and PHN in particular are very challenging to treat. What if something as simple as a mirror box could bring relief. See why I called it a flippy idea.